EFCA emerging adults speak their minds
When you ask emerging adults in your life for their thoughts about spirituality and church, you’ll hear honest, thoughtful answers—if, that is, you’ve created space for honesty to flourish. That’s what happened when EFCA Today interacted with 23 young adults from Evangelical Free Churches across the country.
When asked about the significance of their spiritual faith (on a scale of 1 to 5) seventeen of them chose 5 (“very important to me: it defines me and my choices”), and the remaining six chose 4 (“important: it’s a priority but maybe not a consistent priority”).
When asked about the importance of church attendance, however, their answers varied more. The majority chose 5, yet others chose 4 or 3. And one young woman indicated 2 (“not important: I believe in the importance of church but honestly don’t pay much attention to it.”)
She isn’t alone among her millennial cohort in having struggles with the local church.1 Today’s emerging-adult Christians want a spiritual family that lives out what it believes and offers a safe place to help figure out what they believe. And they seriously long for older believers to reach out and invest in their lives.
Hang onto your hat for honesty from a few of these young people—all of whom care deeply about their faith and desire greater authenticity and power in the church today.
The church has ceased to be bold. Be bold. Talk about things that matter. Yes, the Bible matters very much and should be studied and taught from the pulpit. But presidential elections matter too. Don’t tell me how to vote, but help me understand issues like immigration, marriage equality, abortion, death penalty, gender equality and so many others through a biblical worldview. Not everyone will agree, but that is a sign of a healthy church: that we can have good, hard and often challenging dialogue on important things. Connect with what is important to us; it is probably what is important to the majority of the congregation.
Engage us. Ask us to join the conversation. Care enough to talk about hard stuff. But also trust enough to preach truth rather than what you think will keep us in our seats. Millennials want to be pushed. We want to learn and walk rightly with God, so help us. Help us navigate life in this very broken world we live in. We have a lot to give and we want to give to the church.
Stop being so divisive toward other Christian churches/ denominations. Instead, please, work together to further the Kingdom of God. Many people in my generation come from broken homes and families and don’t want to be broken within the body of Christ. My generation does not care how people choose to sing praises to God or if people are baptized—or about any other issue that isn’t talked about in Scripture as required for salvation. Our hope is that, as believers, we’d focus on Christ and the sacrifice He made for all of us, and live out His ministry.
Although millennials are very tech-savvy and utilize a great deal of technology, church doesn’t need to be a flashy YouTube video or concert-like presentation. Too often it feels as though churches are attempting to cater to millennials and are losing their focus on being biblically centered. There is a balance between being up-to-date with technology and providing a modern atmosphere while keeping Christ as our center and worshiping God as our priority. Most of all we’d like to hear the Bible preached with boldness and authenticity. We want to learn, not be fed a watered-down, worldly message. Give us a purpose and role to serve in. We want to be involved.
The churches that do a good job of connecting with millennials have people in leadership who are not that far removed from being young, or people who can relate to young people and seek to invest in their lives. Experience is important but can be overrated; it’s more important to consider what kind of gifting people have. Are there younger, less-experienced but more relate-able and committed leaders in your community? My church does a good job of reaching out to young people, but it could do a much better job of reaching out to people of color by having leadership in the church who look like the community they’re hoping to reach.
Billy also added:
We are an incredibly interconnected generation. We have a million things competing for our attention. We are more likely than other generations to interact with people who think significantly different from us because of the proliferation of diversity that is happening in our institutions of higher education. So we won’t take what you think as fact in the face of contradictory evidence that we see in our everyday life. We do, however, care about what the generations before us say. We want those who are older to share their stories so we can understand their perspectives a little more.
In many ways, the church has isolated itself from salient and present-day social issues such as abortion, gay marriage and race relations—issues that millennials care about. Thus the church makes itself appear out-of-date, distant and cold to the problems millennials find real and important.
We don’t need to do the job of the Holy Spirit and make people believe one way or another. However, we can listen. For this reason, I think church leaders ought to engage these pressing, cultural topics. They need not preach on them every Sunday, but they certainly shouldn’t act as if, suddenly, they don’t exist once you walk into a church building. Maybe churches could have a “questions” night, where a pastor preaches on a certain hot-button topic, then opens it up for everyone to chat about their experiences with the issue and how those experiences line up with Scripture.
I think this would connect the church and the world in a way that is more electrifying and would keep church from being a secluded institution that is meant only for the pious, only for the holy, only for the sanctified.
If millennials saw that a church was actually friendly to sinners (ate, drank, talked with sinners about their lives and had discussions about their concerns), they might want to take a second look at the church. This second glance might show millennials that the church is actually what Jesus says it is: a group of people that has been made holy and made redeemed by His grace alone—not a group that is inherently pious, clean or sanctimonious.
What’s actually really cool about this, is it doesn’t just expose people outside the church, but people inside the church too. It frees them to say, “Hey, my life is imperfect. And I need Jesus and community. I am scared to expose this sin, but I know that you won’t judge me.” It gives relief to the tension/anxiety Satan creates when we face the door of repentance and light.
For my Christian friends who don’t attend church, the main reason they seem to not bow their knee to the King is the overwhelming amount of faith it takes and the dismissal of much science, philosophy and pure intellect. To speak on science and other areas of intellect should not scare or intimidate us whatsoever. To know that our Lord has created all things should encourage us to talk about everything from soaring galaxies to subatomic particles. Not only this, it should drive us into a posture of wonder. To shy away from science and research is to misunderstand and devalue the intellect and curiosity that He’s lavished on us, to graciously possess and use.
Aaron also added:
The church provides that first impression of God for all those who walk the earth. If we ignore those who need God, they will see God as ignoring them. If we seem cold, they will feel God to be cold. But if we can image God to our best ability, we’ve created the first in many wonderful stepping stones for those in and outside the church who are young, eager, zealous and simply trying to find God in all the wrong places.
We need people like those who sought me and showed me the love of Jesus. They were consistent, they were committed, they were loving and they never made me feel like I was worthless. They placed such an immense amount of value on my soul and my eternity that I couldn’t say no. God looked so good and I felt so welcomed by the people of God that I had to think God was the same.
We need God. Help us see Him.
1 “Americans Divided on the Importance of Church,” by Barna Group, March 24, 2014. ↩